Foxconn is the largest electronics manufacturer worldwide. Contracted by the most significant global brands, such as Apple, Intel, Amazon and Sony to name but a few, the company is estimated to manufacture around 40% of all consumer electronics worldwide .
It was not until a series of worker suicides in 2010 that the company came into the spotlight for its atrocious working conditions. Low wages and illegal working conditions have been lamented by workers and labour activists alike . It has since been under scrutiny by environmental groups that focus on pollutional activities in the supply chain of Apple. In their second report from 2011 on the matter, a coalition of 5 influential Chinese ENGOs presented their findings from on-site investigations .
The Foxconn plant in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, is one of 12 factories in China known for being key manufacturers of Apple‘s iPhone and iPad series as well as some key accessories. By the summer of 2011, residents of the nearby Hengda Lvzhou Apartments complex had started noticing a strange smell. The stench, which they had first believed to be coming from the sewer system, eventually became unbearable. More complaints of coughs, headaches and stomach problems had the residents pointing their finger directly to the close-by Foxconn factory. Concerned residents had put their hopes into the investigation campaign against Apple expecting that the pressure put upon the company would move both the manufacturer and the government to act accordingly and improve the situation. Not only were they worried about their health, but also about their newly acquired homes in the Hengda Lvzhou Apartments complex. However, the situation deteriorated when visible health problems, such as breathing difficulties and stomach irritations, increased .
As early as 2009, local residents had started reacting online to the pollution problems of the factory. Local authorities reacted slowly but, by August 8th, 2010, the website of the Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) of Shanxi Province listed Foxconn in their section Environmental Administrative Penalty --> List of Companies with Supervision --> Environmental Problems” publishing the ‘Investigative Report into the handling of the Environmental Petitions to Foxconn Technology Co., Ltd. regarding Emissions Pollution.” . According to the document, the EPB of Taiyuan made several demands to the company, calling for the monitoring of pollutants and upgrading the facilities. According to a 2010 investigation by the provincial EPB, odours were coming out of the coating workshop and from oil mist created by equipment in the machinery workshop of the Foxconn factory. The Taiyuan EPB expanded the list of environmental pollutants caused by the factory in 2011. The irritant gases were caused by fumes from the coating workshop, odours from the waste-water treatment equipment, oil mist from the machinery workshop and dust from the recycling workshop .
On August 6th 2011 residents showed their anger about authorities at the local, city, provincial and national level that had not reacted to further countless phone calls: by blocking the road with their cars in front of the factory, around 100 residents attracted the attention of the provincial government. Following the protest, local authorities got in contact with Foxconn and organised several visits for the residents to the factory. Even though channels of communication between Foxconn and the residents had been opened and the company had promised to improve, residents’ complaints did not cease. Having lost their trust in the determination of public officials and institutions, the residents still insist that the only positive outcome would be for Foxconn to leave .
A massive brawl of approximately 2000 workers in 2012 lead to a temporary closure of the factory. Even though the company is in denial, workers report that the incident was sparked by the violent treatment of security guards towards workers. Following an intervention including some 5000 policemen, 40 individuals had to be taken to the hospital .